The Ottawa Senators were never supposed to win this one. As our own B_T explained in his weekly preview, the St. Louis Blues are quite good. The Senators, as you are no doubt aware, are often quite bad - particularly against Western Conference teams. Nevertheless, the Senators came into this one hoping to play giantslayer and maybe turn things around with a statement win.
The game started for the Senators as it often does: with a stupid mistake. Zack Smith, presumably thinking about the kind of momentum a team can generate with a good penalty kill, decided to give the team a chance to get fired up and immediately threw a dangerous hit to the head of Blues forward Alex Steen. Despite some close misses (including a shot off the post that somehow came back out through Robin Lehner), the Senators were able to kill the ensuing penalty, and Zack Smith's plan went into action.
Back to even strength, the Sens jumped onto the attack. Kyle Turris started it all off by making a beautiful move to split the defence and snap off a quick wrist shot. Brian Elliott was equal to that challenge, but the Sens weren't done. Seconds later, Erik Karlsson blazed past a defender and got a tip on a gorgeous pass from Bobby Ryan, forcing another big save from Brian Elliott. But the Sens still weren't done. Ryan swooped behind the net, grabbed Karlsson's rebound, and fired it out to a streaking Jean-Gabriel Pageau in the slot. The hometown hero buried it. 1-0 Sens.
Somehow, against all hope and expectations, the Senators weren't losing.
Zack Smith, having generated a ton of momentum for the team with his first stupid penalty, decided to take things up another notch by taking a petulant retaliatory penalty. However, maybe "penalty kill momentum" is like a spell that you can only use once a day, because although the Senators were able to kill this second penalty, they failed to immediately score a goal right after. I can't explain it.
The Senators continued to carry the play for the rest of the period, including drawing a couple penalties. Those powerplays came to naught, and the period ended with the Sens up 1-0 and Paul MacLean struggling to remember an intermission speech with a theme other than, "don’t worry, a two-goal lead is the worst in hockey".
The second period started with a five minute powerplay for St. Louis. This was surprising because no one had bothered to take a momentum-generating penalty, so the teams were technically at even strength. By the end of their period-opening three-and-a-half minute shift, Chris Phillips looked as grizzled and tired as Lethal Weapon 4-era Roger Murtaugh and Cody Ceci looked as grizzled and tired as 2013 Chris Phillips.
The tide started to turn back in Ottawa's favour when Jason Spezza did a lovely bit of dancing around the offensive zone before firing a slap shot off the cross bar from (you guessed it!) a sharp angle. The Sens breathed a sigh of relief, having come mere inches from the worst lead in hockey.
And then HOLY SHIT, ROBIN LEHNER! After a horrible giveaway at the blueline by Clarke MacArthur (no, seriously), the Blues broke in 2 on 1 and Alex Steen took a pass at the back post for an easy tap-in. Steen, however, had not accounted for the Lehner, who flew across the crease with his pads stacked and flat-out robbed Steen. Magnificent stuff. At this point, it’s hard to imagine that this game was anything but a battle between two former Senators backup goalies.
But then everything went to shit.
The Senators gave up a cheap breakaway when Patrick Wiercioch got caught sneaking towards the back post and Joe Corvo flipped a weak wrister into the shinpads of a defender. Neither of these was a really bad play individually, but together they were calamitous, with the Blues getting hold of the puck while the whole Senators team was caught moving the wrong way. Stewart calmly slotted a shot between Lehner's pads and all of the Sens' good work for the better part of two periods was undone. 1-1.
A few minutes later, things got much worse when Jared Cowen lost his footing and went all Crocodile Mile past the net as the Blues attacked. With their road-grader on his backside behind the net, the Sens decided to defend the front using the "clusterfuck by committee" method. In the chaos that ensued, Chris Stewart was able to sneak in and fire a quick shot past Robin Lehner. 2-1 Blues.
With only seconds left in the second period, the Senators had suddenly found themselves in their comfort zone: losing a game they should have been winning.
And then, just when I thought things couldn't get any worse, Sportsnet announced that Eugene Melnyk would be doing a second-intermission interview. I thought this would add to my misery and was ready for the red mist to descend, but the incredibly awkward interview set-up, in which Melnyk and Shawn MacKenzie sat side-by-side and uncomfortably close like a weird couple in a restaurant booth, was simply too awesome to not enjoy.
Two periods in, Ottawa was outshooting and outplaying one of the best teams in hockey. They were also losing. At this point, I already had my 2013-2014 Senators theme song on a loop in the background.
Chris Neil kicked things off in the third period with a quick round of fisticuffs against the ridiculously-named Barret Jackman. Neil was the unquestionnable winner. Did the fight generate any momentum? Well, I imagine that will be a point of contention on Ottawa’s morning radio shows tomorrow, because a few minutes later Bobby Ryan dashed in behind the Blues' defence, received an absolute peach of a pass from Kyle Turris, and fired it past a helpless Brian Elliott. 2-2.
Some will say Neil got the Senators fired up, leading to the the goal that ensued. Others will say that Kyle Turris and Bobby Ryan didn't need a concussion to use their significant talents to create a goal.
Personally, I'm just glad it happened.
At this point, I briefly considered putting aside the four fingers of whiskey I'd poured before the Melnyk interview, but quickly remembered that the Senators were going to face a long, nervous ten minutes against a far better team. I kept my drink on hand. This turned out to be a good decision, too, as the Blues went on to steal puck after puck at the Ottawa blueline, hemming the Senators into their own end and creating numerous scoring chances, all of which were turned away by the desperate defenders and the stalwart Robin Lehner.
Regulation ended with Bobby Ryan coming back to break up and odd-man rush by the Blues. With that last act of defensive hockey heroism, the Senators had earned an unexpected point.
Could they make it two?
The Senators got a marvellous chance for two points when Derek Roy took a hooking call in overtime. Overtime powerplays always end in a goal. However, two minutes of static futility later, that ship had sailed for the Senators. The team seemed poised for a shootout loss.
And then it happened; the most wonderful thing.
The puck came back to Cody Ceci at the point. "SHOOOOOOOOOOOOT", implored the always-idiotic CTC crowd.
But Ceci didn't shoot, and we should all be glad, because if the kid had less poise he'd have succumbed to the crowd pressure and fired a shot into the shinpads of the onrushing defender, and we'd probably be lamenting the rookie mistake that led to St. Louis' game-winning breakaway goal.
Instead Ceci calmly stepped to the right and floated a wristshot through a crowd and into the top corner of the Blues' net. The team mobbed the young defenceman and Kyle Turris grabbed the puck to commemorate the Ceci's first NHL goal - an overtime beauty that won a huge game for his favourite team in the city where he grew up.
And just like that, I remembered just how much I love this team, and why.
Sometimes the ups do outnumber the downs, even in Ottawa.
This was an improbable feel-good win that the whole team earned. The only reason I will even choose heros and zeros is for fear that failing to do so would break the heart of hero/zero-stats-compiling-friend-of-the-site Wandrr.
Zero: Zack Smith. He didn't play a bad game when he was out of the box, but it's simply inexcusable to take two stupid penalties in the first ten minutes of an important game. But hey, at least those four minutes dropped his ice time below Bobby Ryan's!
Zero: CTC crowd. I can’t emphasize this enough: stop yelling "shoot". It would be a stupid thing to do even if you weren’t always wrong.
Hero: Bobby Ryan. The advanced stats will tell you that he and Kyle Turris didn’t have a great game. But just for tonight, I’m with Randy Carlyle: fuck your Fenwick. Bobby Ryan was flying all over the ice in this game, scored the crucial tying goal, and came back to break up a scoring chance in the dying seconds of regulation. He was a Sens hero tonight. Honour him.
Hero: Erik Karlsson. K-Hova, the Once and Future King, was magnificent tonight at both ends of the ice. It's so exciting to see him blowing past the best defenders in the league and then blazing back to break up plays in our end. At his peak, Karlsson is unstoppable. He's getting back towards his peak.
Hero: Jean-Gabriel Pageau. He only played 8.9 minutes, but he made them count. He scored a beauty goal to get things started, and he almost had another. He was on the ice for 11 shot attempts for and only 3 against. He also made some big hits, was decent in the faceoff circle, and put in some time on the penalty kill too. This has been tough season for the kid, and it was nice to see him have a big night.
Hero: Cody Ceci. THAT is how you make a team burn a year off your entry level contract. Despite having two relatively healthy defencemen in the press box tonight, the Senators are going to have to think long and hard before sending this kid back to Binghamton. Somehow, I think Bryan Murray is okay with that.
The Senators will have to keep up their good play against the New Jersey Devils on Wednesday night for this win to mean anything. But if they do keep it up, and if they can get on a bit of a roll, I can’t help but think that this is the game we’ll be looking back to as the turning point. I sure hope that turns out to be the case.